Is Your Skin Peeling After You Wash Your Face? Here's Why
Peeling and flaking is probably one of the top 10 most frustrating things when it comes to skin. You feel like you’re doing everything right and slathering on so much moisturizer, yet you find your skin peeling all the same. So, why does my skin do this and how can I prevent it?
- Peeling or flaking skin is caused by a damaged skin barrier.
- Several things can cause your barrier to become compromised: complicated skincare routines, too many or too harsh of active ingredients, picking and peeling, and not properly moisturizing
- Active ingredients are great additions to a skincare routine, but they are invasive products and shouldn’t be used in excess.
- It may be beneficial to try switching to cleansing only at night and checking your moisturizer to see if it's best for you
What is peeling skin and what causes it?
Flaking or peeling skin can come in many different forms. Peeling and flaking can occur anywhere on the body, but most people find it happens on their face. If your skin flakes or peels when you apply makeup, apply certain skincare products or ingredients, when you get out of the shower, or after a day at the beach or pool, then you are suffering from a damaged moisture barrier.
At its core, peeling skin is caused by an impaired moisture barrier. It’s almost a cry for help. A lot of times people are under the impression that they are doing everything right and using all of the best products for several different skin concerns, and their skin reacts by peeling and flaking. Your skin’s natural moisture barrier is meant to protect the skin and keep it moisturized and healthy. But using too many products can severely damage that barrier, and it takes a few steps to repair it.
How to heal a damaged skin barrier
The first thing dermatologists recommend doing to stop peeling, is to simplify your routine…and I mean seriously simplify it. An extremely basic skincare routine really only includes 3 steps or products: cleanse with a gentle non-drying wash, moisturize with a lightweight non-clogging moisturizer and wear an SPF in the mornings.
Although it can be hard to unlearn certain practices or beliefs, if you are suffering from a compromised skin barrier, it’s very important to go back to the basics and give your skin a break from all of the active ingredients. The growth of the skincare community on TikTok and social media in general has had several benefits and encouraged many people to start caring for their skin. But it can also be quite confusing and overwhelming when each person is telling you which products, techniques and steps you need in a routine. The reality is, everyone’s skin is different and not everyone needs every single ingredient in their routine.
Anytime you incorporate an active ingredient into your skin, it penetrates beneath the skin’s superficial layer and goes to work in the deeper layers of the skin. Active ingredients literally “break” your skin’s barrier. This sounds intense and may be scary, but that is what actives are intended to do.
They require deeper penetration into the second and third layers of skin in order to really work. But, using too many active ingredients or too strong of actives can do more harm than good.
Active ingredients are the biologically active chemical or component of a product or drug. Examples of popular active ingredients in skincare include:
- Vitamin C
- Retinols or Retinoids
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)
- Hyaluronic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
There are several others to add to the list, but these are some of the most widely known and widely used active ingredients in people’s skin care products and routines.
It’s important to remember that these are all phenomenal ingredients and can be extremely beneficial when used properly, but the issue with actives is that they are invasive ingredients and can irritate the skin. So, naturally when using too strong of an active ingredient or using multiple actives at once too frequently, your skin can react poorly and one of the most common side effects of a damaged skin barrier is flaking. This is why it is so important to stop the use of any and all actives completely when trying to repair your skin’s natural barrier.
Don’t pick and definitely don’t scrub
When you’re suffering from flaking skin, picking and peeling are the most tempting things, but you have to avoid doing this at all costs. Picking and peeling the skin back only exposes the skin more and allows for a greater risk of irritation and a more damaged skin barrier. If you’ve ever seen someone document their journey after a chemical peel, they’re always told not to pick at the big flakes, and to cut them off instead. This is for a similar reason; peeling the flaky skin off will only expose the raw skin more and increase risk of aggravating the healthy skin underneath.
Another temptation when dealing with peeling skin is to over-exfoliate. When we see uneven skin texture, our first instinct is always to get rid of it. But, using physical exfoliants such as scrubs is way too abrasive on the skin and will cause microtears and scarring and essentially makes any existing condition worse. While chemical exfoliants are a much better option than scrubs, it is still important to avoid exfoliation completely because these are active ingredients and will further irritate your skin’s barrier.
Cleansing your skin properly is extremely important, but many people make the mistake of over-cleansing their skin. Cleansers in simple form are soaps like any other. They remove dirt, oil, and bacteria by stripping the skin. This is a good thing, because it removes any unwanted things on our skin’s surface, but soaps can’t distinguish between the good and the bad. So, while our skin is being stripped of all of the bad stuff, it’s also being stripped of all of the good stuff including moisture and natural healthy oils that we produce throughout the day.
While most people produce enough oil, others do not, and using a cleanser can actually leave their skin drier than before. While cleansing your skin is an essential step to a routine, it may be beneficial for you to switch to cleansing only at night. I know this sounds scary, especially if you’ve been washing your face twice a day your entire life. I was the same way and I was terrified to try it, but I found that my skin loved it. I simply rinse my face with warm water in the mornings and pat dry and then go right in with a hydrating serum and this keeps my skin from getting extra chapped throughout the day. While no routine works for everyone, if you’re struggling with flaky, dry skin, it may be worth a shot.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!
It seems self explanatory: if your skin is dry, moisturize it! It may be obvious to some, but several people don’t use enough moisturizer or don’t use the correct moisturizer for their skin type. Moisturizing is an essential step in skincare, but it’s important to note that moisture can come in many different forms.
The most common types of moisturizers are moisturizing creams or lotion-like products. These tend to work well on most skin types, but not all. If you have moderate or combination skin, this type of moisturizer would work well for you. It’s up to you to experiment and learn your skin and how often you need it. Some people who are combination-dry may find that they need to apply moisturizer during their AM and PM skincare routines. Others who are combo-oily may only need to apply at night and use something lighter like a hydrating serum in the morning.
Moisturizers can also come in the form of gels and balms or ointments. If your skin is on the oily side or you just can’t stand the feeling of a heavy or thick moisturizer, a gel consistency will work better for you because they are thinner, more lightweight, and sink into the skin quickly so you barely feel it on your face. If you are someone who is on the drier side, a balm/ointment or even a facial oil may be your moisturizer of choice. While most balms and oils are occlusives, meaning they seal in moisture, they are great to use on top of your typical moisturizing lotion to add that extra layer of protection.
While flaking and peeling skin can be super annoying, it’s a very preventable and treatable condition. Once you simplify your routine and go back to the basics, everything that you add back into it should stem from the purpose of hydrating your skin. Nobody likes flakes, especially on your skin, so say goodbye to peeling in 2022.
Written by Jordan Hammaren